The other night I sipped a Manhattan for the first time. For some reason its moniker unearthed images of a splash of gin, perhaps vodka and a sassy fruit liquieur to temper it. Instead, what met my lips was the hard bite of bourbon whiskey. It made my eyes water a touch. It’s funny how names can set a tone for us, categorize our behaviors. What Jackie Desforges discovers in group travel is how freeing it can be to leap beyond where you are from or how you are expected to be. And the ending! Oh, how Jackie surprised me. That is the Manhattan in a nutshell. Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.
Three summers ago, I spent most of my afternoons lying on a beach in the south of France, topless, with a group of twelve girls that I have never since seen again.
We were studying abroad for one month in a chateau located right on the beach, near one of the many places along the Mediterranean coast where the rich flock to park their yachts every summer.
We would people-watch and gossip. We would sneak beers out to drink in the sand– at least for two days, until we realized that they were allowed and we didn’t have to sneak them. We would pretend to do our reading for the next day’s class. We would float on our backs in the salty water, out where the waves faded into soft, rocking motions.
Inevitably, we became extremely close.
We were easily settled into this routine and we each came to play a separate role in its execution. Vanessa was the instigator, always thinking of something for us to do. Sarah faithfully documented our routine each day with her camera, which was her prized position. Emily and I were the clowns, always ready to provide sass when the situation called for it (but mostly when it didn’t). Stefanie was our link to the other group of girls, the ones who were more concerned with chasing French boys and watching the way their breasts bounced when they chased each other topless across the sand; she was caught between wanting to be with us and wanting to be with them. Caitlin was our quiet, shy artist; Stephanie was the girly one.
Everyday, on the beach, a new episode would unfold.
I remember the day we decided to take our tops off. Inspired by a sudden burst of courage and a few sips of wine, I suggested the idea to the group. Vanessa shrugged, always ready for anything. Sarah and Emily were hesitant; Stefanie and Stephanie said they would do it once I did; Caitlin looked like she’d rather eat a stranger’s breast than expose her own to the world.
One by one, we took off our tops. I don’t think most of my friends at home, some of whom I’ve known for over a decade, have ever seen my bare chest. My friends in France saw me topless several times.
A few days after that, three of us found ourselves huddled on the beach at sunset in a more somber mood, talking to Sarah about some tough news she had just received.
A week later we were lying on the beach hating ourselves and each other, sharing in the worst hangover any of us had ever experienced.
A few nights after that, we were running through the warm water at midnight, drunk and giggly and yelling in broken French to the boys who thought our American accents were funny.
We exposed ourselves to each other on that beach everyday in one way or another, topless or not, in ways we had never exposed ourselves to anyone we knew back home.
I remember those episodes fondly as just that and nothing more – episodes. Portions of one part of my life that do not fit into my “real” life back home. I think we were able to be so free and adventurous with each other because the place itself seemed so unreal in the first place; it was like we were taking a break from our actual lives, from our actual selves, and were given the opportunity to live a different, imaginary life for one summer. We could say what we said to each other and act how we acted because who was there to say we weren’t actually like that in real life? How were we to know if someone amongst us was just acting?
Ours was a unique friendship precisely for that reason. You will not have the same type of relationship with the friends you make while you’re traveling as you will with the friends who are waiting for you back home, and I think that’s a wonderful thing, as well as an inevitable part of travel. When you travel you are experiencing new places, you are trying new things, and the new friends that you make play a crucial part: they are the audience.
They play witness; they are your proof that the travel was real, no matter how dreamlike it might have seemed at the time. Of course, they are also your reminder that the travel is a temporary visit. You have to say goodbye to these friends just as you have to say goodbye to the places that you brought you together.
I never saw my friends in person again after we all returned home, even though some of us only lived about twenty minutes away from each other. I wondered if it was maybe because our friendship couldn’t exist outside the parameters of that surreal time; was it a friendship that had been solely dictated by location, timing, and circumstance? We had seemed –and still seem – to have so much in common, but as hard as we tried to meet up again after we all returned home, it just wouldn’t fall into place as easily as everything had when we had all been together in France.
When I think of them now, it is difficult to imagine what they might be doing in real life. I only know them as the characters they played in the “French Riviera” episode of my life, the one where I ran off to France, frolicked through art museums, and fell in and out of love with a place. I miss them so much whenever I think of them, and I wonder how they imagine me going about my day-to-day life without them, and without our little beach in France.
Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees. I always have one every summer. I also love women writers. Lots. If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule. Come on, join the XX chromosome party.
Photos all provided by author.
If you haven’t heard, I’m participating in the Ultimate Train Challenge starting in September. Part of the Ultimate Train Challenge is our commitment to raising $10,000 for charity, by partnering with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Da Nang Association of Agent Orange Victims. Each dollar will go directly to children at the center near Da Nang who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange to this day. You can help donate by purchasing Eurail tickets through my website or donate directly by going through the Ultimate Train Challenge site. I’d like to thank our European sponsor, Eurail for supporting this important cause.